Following IU’s 52-49 loss to No. 8 Ohio State in October, an Ohio State fan tweeted about scoring a goal in lacrosse against then-redshirt junior tight end Ted Bolser in high school. The fan used a broken version of the transitive property to say that he could play Bolser’s position for the Hoosiers.
Bolser responded by saying how he could have played lacrosse at the University of Maryland on scholarship.
Ranked the 34th best tight end prospect in the country by ESPN for the 2009 recruiting class, Bolser chose to pursue a football career at IU instead of lacrosse.
The 6-foot-6 inch, 252-pound tight end laughed, reflecting on the Twitter exchange, and said he had no idea where his lacrosse career could have gone.
“I did love the sport,” Bolser said. “But I’m happy I chose football, to say the least.”
Bolser will have one final chance to upset the Buckeyes when IU faces No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday in what will arguably be the most important game of his career. It’s a must-win matchup for the Hoosiers to earn bowl eligibility, it’s the final road game of his IU career and he will return to his home state to face a team that hasn’t lost since Jan. 2, 2012.
However, Bolser is treating it like any other game on IU’s schedule.
“We want to beat every Big Ten team,” he said. “It’s a Big Ten team that happens to be No. 3 in the nation at this time, but still, I don’t really look at that and if I did, you’re just mentally beat already.”
The Bolser family, who doesn’t miss any of Ted’s games, will be in attendance at Ohio Stadium. Bolser said between 10 and 15 of his high school friends go to Ohio State.
“I’m excited to play there in the fact that all my friends who went to Ohio State are finally seeing me,” he said.
Plus, the ABC-ESPN reverse mirror broadcast means that a bigger spotlight will be on Touchdown Ted on Saturday.
“I know everybody is going to be watching, so it’s exciting to show my abilities when we play against one of the best teams in the nation,” he said.
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Bolser was a three-sport star at Indian Hill High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to being an All-Ohio football player, he was the captain of the Braves’ lacrosse team and led the city in rebounds and steals as a sophomore for Indian Hill’s varsity basketball team.
Bolser’s former high school football coach, Kevin Siple, said the tight end was always motivated to play the game.
“He is so competitive, and hated to lose more than anyone I have ever coached,” Siple said.
Indian Hill, which went undefeated in the Cincinnati Hills League during Bolser’s three seasons on varsity, ran a spread, no-huddle offense. The team never lined up with a traditional tight end on offense.
Bolser played split end, filling in on defense at linebacker in big games or key situations as needed.
Siple said Bolser was a leader by example and it started from his upbringing.
“His parents had very high behavior expectations of Ted and his brothers to do the right thing all the time,” Siple said.
Ted’s father, Tom Bolser, is a teacher, so Siple said Bolser always took care of his business in the classroom.
“Since he was such a competitive person, his teammates always respected his will to win and followed his lead,” Siple said.
Siple said the characteristic that stood out to him was Bolser’s constant desire to improve.
“Even though Ted was always the biggest and best athlete on the field, he always worked to get better,” Siple said. “He could have just ‘coasted’ in high school and still dominated, but he worked hard to get better. That’s the kind of player Ted was.”
IU Coach Kevin Wilson said Bolser has played with a sense of urgency this season because it’s his final year in Bloomington and he wants to play in the NFL.
Despite Bolser’s size and career résumé, Wilson said it’s going to be tough for the tight end to make it to the next level.
“He’s not a true body that fits some of their things in special teams and fits some of those things in their blocking mode and what they need to do at that league,” Wilson said.
Siple had similar concerns about Bolser when the tight end was making the jump from playing on Friday nights in high school to competing on Saturdays in the Big Ten.
“The thing that stood out to me was his development as a blocking TE,” he said. “Ted has the best hands of any player I have ever coached, plus he has the physical size to compete at a high level, so I knew the receiving part of the position would not be a problem.”
For Siple, his biggest question about Bolser’s transition to higher ranks of organized
football was if the tight end could be an effective blocker for the Hoosiers.
“Since he was always a split end growing up, I thought putting his hand on the ground and blocking in the Big Ten was going to be the challenge,” Siple said. “To Ted’s credit, and his coaches at IU, he has shown so much improvement week to week in that area.”
Bolser said that a big part of blocking is having the mentality.
“Mentally I’ve been great this past summer all the way through now, and if you ask Coach Wilson, it’s definitely mentality,” Bolser said. “I think I’ve definitely improved in that aspect.”
Since IU games were always televised in Cincinnati, Siple had the opportunity to
watch his former player compete almost every week in the fall. Seeing Bolser’s growth at tight end over the course of five seasons in Bloomington convinced Siple that Bolser’s NFL dreams could come to fruition in 2014.
“I think that’s what really convinced me that he could have the chance to play on Sundays,” he said.
While Bolser may lack some of the physical tools necessary to play professionally, he tries to make up the difference in his effort.
“He knows he’s got to play at a high level of energy and effort,” Wilson said.
Bolser is multifaceted. He not only contributes to the Hoosiers’ offense as a receiver and blocker but he is a starter on IU’s special teams unit.
“He can make some plays in the pass game, but he’s been awesome in kick coverage,” Wilson said. “He’s been awesome in punt coverage.”
Even though Bolser has doubled up on his starting roles as both a tight end and on special teams coverage, his effort has not suffered.
“You watch Bolser, he’s the first guy down covering a kick after you score a touchdown,” Wilson said. “That’s what you want. That’s great to see.”
In IU’s first six games, Bolser was named Offensive Player of the Week twice and
Special Teams Player of the Week three times.
“I really enjoy it,” Bolser said. “I like to show my separation from other guys, and I like to be the best at whatever I do. If that involves special teams, I’m going to try to do my best.”
The SPEA Management major became the 20th receiver in program history with at least 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards in his career.
Bolser is IU’s all-time leader in receiving yards (1,313) and touchdowns (14) by a tight end. With 112 catches as a Hoosier, he trails only Bob Stephenson in career receptions by a tight end, and he needs just four more to break the record.
While he acknowledges how special it is for him to leave his name in IU’s record books, Bolser isn’t caught up in the numbers.
“I literally had no idea how many catches I had to get for breaking Bob Stephenson’s tight end catching record,” he said. “It means a lot, but I’m still focused on the season and rolling out with these guys.”
Bolser caught the attention of the national media in his redshirt freshman season when he had 27 receptions, 407 yards and five touchdowns. Five media outlets, including ESPN.com and Rivals.com, selected him for their All-Freshman teams.
He was the lone freshman included in the 22-player John Mackey Award Midseason Watch List, which is awarded annually to college football’s most outstanding tight end.
Bolser is book-ending his collegiate career in similar fashion to how it began. On Monday, he was among the eight tight ends who were named semifinalists for the 2013 John Mackey Award.
When asked what it would mean to him if he won the award, Bolser was lost for words.
“I’d be speechless,” he said. “It’s a great award and to win it … I’ve never even fathomed that.”
Wilson said Bolser benefits from finally having stability in his final year of eligibility.
“I actually coached him the first year,” Wilson said. “He went from a coach then to me and then on.”
Bolser said the Hoosiers were pretty much a running team in Wilson’s first season in Bloomington.
“He didn’t know what I was capable of doing, and he was figuring out everybody’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “I ended up blocking a lot. It’s been a real roller coaster.”
Bolser’s receiving statistics took a nosedive in the first year of the new regime. After posting numbers that earned him All-Big Ten honorable mention honors as a redshirt freshman, Bolser was limited to 14 receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown in 2011.
His receptions and receiving yards nearly tripled from his redshirt sophomore to redshirt junior season.
Wilson said the coaching staff underwent restructuring after the 2011 season and Offensive Coordinator Seth Littrell, who came to IU from the University of Arizona in 2012, took over the role as Tight Ends Coach.
However, the roller coaster ride was far from over.
“This year we’ve had some people get hurt here and there, so I had to block a little bit more,” Bolser said. “I was catching the ball a lot more at the beginning of the season.”
The tight end caught 11 passes for 134 yards and four touchdowns in IU’s first two games.
“I think having Coach Littrell for two years in a row … (helped him in) having some continuity as far as what he’s hearing every day, kind of relating to him,” Wilson said.
As IU’s rushing attack gained momentum throughout the season — Tevin Coleman and Stephen Houston became the first Hoosier running back duo in school history to both rush for at least 100 yards in consecutive games — the offense has had to rely less on the arms of its quarterbacks, meaning fewer touches for Bolser.
“I’ve enjoyed it all,” he said. “I think everything has worked out in my favor.”
Bolser said he and Littrell have connected well in their two seasons together.
“He said he’s exactly like me,” Bolser said. “Just a hard-headed kid, didn’t care about much but just tried to get the job done. We joke around, but when he gets serious and I get serious, we know not to mess around with each other and we get the job done.”
The Hoosiers have unfinished business in order to accomplish the goals they set before the season. With a 4-6 record and two weeks remaining in the season, their backs are against the wall. IU controls its own destiny regarding postseason eligibility, and that mission starts at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, where the Hoosiers will face a No. 3 Buckeyes squad that has won 22 consecutive games.
How does Bolser want to bookend his career?
“Beat Ohio State and Purdue,” he said. “That’s about it.”
With the final regular season games of his college career taking place in November and college graduation in December, Bolser is focused on making the most of his final months of college.
“I just want to try to have fun with everybody,” he said. “I don’t have much time here. This is the closest our group has ever been, so (I) just (want to) go out there and have fun and enjoy every second.”
Bolser is pleased with the four and a half years he has spent donning cream and crimson.
“I think I found my niche, especially at the tight end position, and I’ve had a lot of great years here,” he said. “I think I’ve done pretty well here, and I’m happy with it.”
The Cincinnati native hasn’t given much thought to his NFL prospects.
“I’ve thought about it here and there, but I rarely talk about it with my coaches,” he
Whether or not Bolser has thought about a future as a tight end at the next level, he is on the NFL’s radar. ESPN Insider ranks Bolser as the 17th best tight end prospect for the 2014 NFL draft.
In the past five drafts, an average of 15.4 tight ends were selected per year, putting Bolser on the cusp of having his name called at Radio City Music Hall in May.
Bolser would be the fourth tight end who played under Wilson to be drafted.
As Oklahoma University’s Offensive Coordinator, as well as being the Sooners’ Tight Ends and Fullbacks Coach, Wilson coached former First-Team All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham. Gresham had 111 receptions, 1,629 yards and 26 receiving touchdowns in his three-year collegiate career. The Cincinnati Bengals chose Gresham with the 21st selection in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Wilson has also coached tight ends James Hanna, a sixth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, and Brody Eldridge, a fifth round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
As Bolser’s tight end coach in 2011, Wilson would occasionally talk about his previous tight ends, but Bolser said Wilson has since given that up.
“He used to when he first got here, but ever since that I kind of found my own identity,” Bolser said.
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